Blair Martin turns Tryon history into inspiration

Published 3:00 am Friday, May 15, 2009

I ran into Blair a while back as she was moving into her new studio space over Owens Pharmacy. She was so excited about this space that she had seen from below with all the windows on the corner. Once she was moved in I stopped by to see how part of the old hospital had been converted into her artist&squo;s studio. Did you paint all this color for yourself when you moved in? The former tenet had painted flowers all over the place. She had painted all of this color. She had painted the caps at the junctures of the pipes with smiley faces. You find them everywhere. With the color and whimsy of your artwork, it fits you. It does, it&squo;s lively and I really couldn&squo;t care less. I would have been upset if it had been battleship grey. I love it with the light and everything; it&squo;s exactly what I wanted. How did you find out about this place? I&squo;d just been asking around. I looked at a bunch of other spaces. Rents can be exorbitant for an artist who&squo;s probably not going to generate much income anyway. I think Bill Ingham said, &dquo;I think there might be some spaces over Owen&squo;s Pharmacy. I don&squo;t know, but stop by and ask about it.&dquo; The guys with the surveying company are the sons of the owner of the building and the pharmacists are her daughter and son-in-law. When I asked they said, &dquo;Yeah, I think my mother would rent a space.&dquo; There are some great spaces up here for artists. Did you have a studio space before? Tales from the Family Tree acrylic on canvas by Blair Martin I worked at home. I worked out in our sort of solarium on the end of the house. We also eat there, we sit there, we drink there, and so you know&ellip; It wasn&squo;t just your work space. No. It&squo;s open to everything else. It&squo;s a small house. I enjoy painting there, but I really like having my own space. It couldn&squo;t always be a mess. With this I lock the doors and nobody comes in. It can be a mess. I love it. How long have you been in Tryon? Almost five years now. Where did you come from? I&squo;m originally from Richmond, Virginia and my husband&squo;s company is still there. He has an ad agency. Then we also have a place in Key West we are trying to sell. Bill&squo;s from Hendersonville originally and we used to come to visit his mother. We were looking around for just a cottage, a summer place since Key West is so hot. We planned to make that our primary residence and we had always wanted a mountain cottage. We went everywhere. We looked out west, Maine, Canada, and Puerto Rico. We were driving around after coming down to visit his mother. He said, &dquo;I want to show you the area my mother grew up in,&dquo; because she grew up in Tryon. We thought it was charming and were going back to her house up US 176 and saw this &dquo;for sale&dquo; sign at the bottom of a piece of property that was up on the hill. I said, &dquo;That&squo;s kind of a neat property.&dquo; He said, &dquo;That almost the kind of place like my mother describes that she grew up in.&dquo; It had a &dquo;for sale&dquo; sign and it was Sunday. We drove past it and I said, &dquo;You know what, let&squo;s turn back. Let&squo;s call the guy.&dquo; We did and he wasn&squo;t there. I said, &dquo;Drive up there.&dquo; Bill does not do stuff like that. He said, &dquo;No.&dquo; I said, &dquo;Drive up there. I&squo;ll go find out what this is.&dquo; You were willing to be the nosey person. Grace Ingham acrylic on canvas by Blair Martin&bsp;We drive up to the top of the driveway which ended at the house. I got out of the car and knocked on the door and knocked and knocked. I think the front door was open so I knew someone was there. Finally, this poor woman came to the door in a towel dripping. I said, &dquo;Sorry to bother you, but I&squo;m interested in your house.&dquo; She was somewhat put out. She said, &dquo;Pardon the towel; I&squo;ve been in the pool. I didn&squo;t know how to get into the house from the pool without you seeing me.&dquo; She suggested we make an appointment with her agent. We went back to Richmond and Bill said, &dquo;If you&squo;re really interested you call the agent and you can go back down there and look at it.&dquo; I called the agent, came down and looked at it and loved it. It&squo;s this little rock cottage on the top of the hill right next to the Norman Wilder Conservancy. It was just charming. We found out after we had talked to the realtor and his mother that not only was it near where she grew up, it was the house she grew up in. His grandfather had built it from rock on the mountain that it sits on. It was too serendipitous to not pay attention. He had warned me, &dquo;Now if you decide you want it, do not tell her that you have this history with it because if we did get the house there would be no bargaining room at all.&dquo; Well, I told her. I felt like I needed to. What happened was she managed to get out of another contract. She felt like we ought to have it. She was just as nice about it as she could be. It turned out everything fell into place. So, that&squo;s how we got here. You stumbled upon a family home that he had never seen. We didn&squo;t even know if it was still here. We had no idea. It was built when she was a toddler. She only lived here until she was twelve. His grandfather died right after the house was built. He died in the house. They stayed there a little while longer and then moved away. That&squo;s a neat find. As an artist how did that transition affect your work? I&squo;d done a billion different jobs. I was working for a theatre a long time as the publicist, PR, and marketing. I did playwriting and set design and costume design and it was a great job. What theatre was that? Theatre Four. Anyway, I got recruited from there by a guy who was doing some design for me to interview with an ad agency in town and did. I&squo;d always wanted to be in advertising. At least I thought I did. I don&squo;t know anything about it. I went into advertising from that point and he made me creative director. I did that for fifteen years. I didn&squo;t do any design. I basically was a writer and producer for all that time. I think I quit that job like nine times and every time they&squo;d call and say just come on back it will be okay. I&squo;d go back because I wanted the money. Beragoude acrylic on canvas by Blair Martin I quit for the last time. I wanted to paint. I hadn&squo;t really gotten started, but I was dabbling. I started collecting Haitian art down in Key West when we&squo;d go down there. I just absolutely loved it. I started going to Haiti. I went and bought a ton of stuff from artists. I was an otherworldly experience to be there because it was at the time, and probably still, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. It just absolutely dilapidated. There&squo;s no infrastructure at all. I started meeting people and I was fascinated by the culture and the mixtures of religion. There&squo;s a very dark sense of humor that permeates. I bought a whole boat load of stuff and brought it back and realized I had to open a gallery. I did, in an up and coming area in Richmond. I did that for about four years going back and forth to Haiti. I don&squo;t think I lost any money, but I sure didn&squo;t make any. I loved going to Haiti and buying the art and working with these very unusual people I met over there. I didn&squo;t like being a shop keeper. I did a lot of talks on Haitian art because I learned so much about it by doing it. Finally, I decided I wanted to close it because I wanted to paint full time. I started just doing that, very cartoonish. The cactus? It&squo;s a cactus lady. In fact, it&squo;s got a caption on it that says, &dquo;time of the month.&dquo; Somebody from Key West saw them and I started showing down there. I
&squo;ve only had one show in Richmond. Did you have training in painting? Linda Campbell acrylic on canvas by Blair Martin No, I had wanted to major in art. I lived in Richmond and there&squo;s a wonderful art school there which is the Commonwealth University. It was 1968 when I started college, and it was still Richmond Polytechnic at the time. I told my mother I wanted to go there and she said, &dquo;Absolutely not, they&squo;re all beatniks. You&squo;re not going to a school with beatniks.&dquo; I did not go there and went to the University of Richmond. Their art department was nothing to speak of, so I majored in French and Italian because foreign languages were my love and didn&squo;t really get back to art. I had jobs where I did a lot of illustrating. I didn&squo;t start painting until about eight to ten years ago. I played around with different mediums. Oil I didn&squo;t have the patience for because when I start something I want to finish it. The oil wouldn&squo;t dry, I&squo;d paint it anyway and it would turn to mud. Then I tried colored pencils and things were too tight. I&squo;ve tried a lot of different things, but acrylics seem to be the best for me. I can manipulate it a little bit. It dries quickly so I can keep painting. That&squo;s what I do. I tend to paint out of my head. I don&squo;t have any interest in landscape or still life. I like people and I like nonsense stuff. I&squo;m sitting across from these mermen here. I did a series, it was part of a show at the Upstairs and the subhead was &dquo;Tales from the family tree.&dquo; In this, for example, the guy in the hat is my grandfather, the turtle is my grandmother and the other two people were two friends. I remember they always used to go to the beach together every year. I love to marry people to animals. I did stories to go with all of them. The little boxes are part of the stories. A lot of them have stuff in the background from Key West. That&squo;s a lighthouse from Key West with Jade and Pearl. She&squo;s in the park in front of the light house where a lot of people did yoga with her dog and the flower in the box is a lotus. The children&squo;s book I&squo;m working on is what some of these that are unfinished are about. It&squo;s going to be based on something I did for my first granddaughter when she was born. I did a series in verse of what I called her &dquo;guardianimals.&dquo; I make up the stories visually. The children&squo;s book will be about the guardianimals? That one&squo;s called a &dquo;Mouch.&dquo; They absorb things that the child has a hard time with and they take care of it for them. That one is &dquo;Yardvark&dquo; that does yard work. That one is &dquo;Frocks&dquo; who likes to wear girlie dresses. That one is &dquo;Wake Uppy Puppy.&dquo; Do you have a deadline set to finish it? Willard Teaster acrylic on canvas by Blair Martin I do. I just went to this conference with a panel of editors for children&squo;s picture books and they are committed to accept for six months any manuscripts you have for review. They&squo;ll give you feedback regardless. That&squo;s the goal. I have to be in the right frame of mind to write and I never know when that&squo;s going to be. It seems like this space certainly has a fanciful air with the light and color. Energy is what I like. I like the energy in art and people. That&squo;s why I don&squo;t do still life or landscapes. I like to feel that electricity. I need to be doing something. If other artists are interested in joining Blair in renting a downtown studio space you may stop by and inquire at Owen&squo;s Pharmacy.

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